In 2007 the Sunday Gospel reading is almost always from Luke. The first part of today’s text (Luke 1:1-4) is the Evangelist’s preface, in which he explains how and why he wrote this Gospel. Luke sought to provide an orderly account, based on traditions, about Jesus’ birth, teachings and other activities in his public ministry and his passion, death and resurrection. Luke’s goal was to confirm the reliability of the instruction that his reader and patron, Theophilus (“lover of God”), had received.
The second part (Luke 4:14-21) is the first section of what has been described as Luke’s programmatic preface to Jesus’ public ministry. The passage identifies Jesus as God’s prophet, uniquely endowed with the Holy Spirit, and his public ministry as the pivotal moment in salvation history. According to Luke’s narrative, Jesus’ first public action takes place in the synagogue at Nazareth. Jesus stands up and reads from the Book of Isaiah (61:1-2 and 58:6). Then he sits down and delivers one of the shortest sermons ever given: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
One of the most important titles applied to Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is “prophet.” In the Old Testament a prophet is sent by God to proclaim God’s will and judgment to the people. Prophets teach in various ways, not only by transmitting oracles from God (“Thus says the Lord”) but also by parables and symbolic actions.
Besides fitting the biblical definition, Jesus also corresponds perfectly to the description in his reading from the prophet Isaiah. In his public ministry Jesus the prophet will be the unique agent of the Holy Spirit and the “anointed” one (the Messiah or Christ). As God’s prophet he will bring good news to the poor, restore sight to the blind, free the oppressed and proclaim God’s favor (jubilee) to his people.
Throughout Luke’s Gospel today is an important word. “Today” is the time of Jesus’ public ministry, the middle or center of time, the pivotal moment between the time of Israel (up to and including John the Baptist) and the time of the Holy Spirit and the church (beginning at Pentecost). In this time all the energy of the Holy Spirit is focused in Jesus the prophet of God par excellence.
Jesus’ Sabbath observance, synagogue participation and reading from Scripture highlight his continuity with Israel. In reading the Scriptures and insisting on “today,” he follows the example of Ezra and Nehemiah. The passage from 1 Corinthians 12 suggests how Christians, as members of the body of Christ, carry on the work of Jesus by using their spiritual gifts and building up the body of Christ. In the today of Jesus, Israel’s history finds its fullness and the church finds its dynamism and direction. While Luke is well known as a proponent of apostolic succession, he is also an advocate of prophetic succession, by which the apostles and other members of Christ’s body (the church) carry on the work of Jesus the prophet of God.